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Mutual Assistance Treaty amendment underway in Jamaica

Changes critical to war on transnational crime, says justice minister.

The Government has taken steps to free itself to respond to requests for legal assistance from several countries in the region designated British Overseas Territories.

This, after a complaint from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in late March indicated that it was unable to grant a request it had received from the relevant authorities of one of these territories in this region — these being The Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caiços Islands, Bermuda, Monserrat, and Anguilla.

The DPP said it couldn’t respond because this unnamed British Overseas Territory had not been brought within the ambit of Jamaica’s Mutual Assistance Criminal Matters (Act).

According to that office: “Failure to bring this and other British Overseas Territories in the region under the Act was adversely affecting Jamaica’s co-operation arrangements in criminal matters with the law enforcement authorities of those countries, as many requests for legal assistance had been coming to Jamaica from those countries and Jamaica was not able to respond favourably.”

Consequently, Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding on Friday sought the approval of the Senate for an Order amending the Principal Act to include the countries.

The Mutual Assistance Criminal Matters (Act) facilitates important forms of legal assistance between Jamaica and other countries with which Jamaica has entered into treaties providing for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.

Senator Golding said the present situation had been “negatively affecting the inclination of those countries to respond favourably to reciprocal requests for legal assistance made of them by Jamaica”.

He said the designation of these countries under the Act is critical to the nation’s war on transnational crime and organised crime and corruption being experienced by the country and the Caribbean as a whole.

“Several of these countries are offshore banking centres and tax havens and well-known jurisdictions for the holding of funds and other assets, and Jamaicans have significant investments and commercial links with these jurisdictions. It is clearly in the public interest to facilitate mutual legal assistance between the law enforcement agencies of Jamaica and these countries,” Senator Golding said.

The justice minister was also at pains to point out that Cabinet’s approval for the Order to be made predated the April 25 confiscation order made against David Smith in the Supreme Court of the Turks and Caiços Islands, which alleges that he donated US$2 million to the People’s National Party and US$5 million to the Jamaica Labour Party.

The People’s National Party has since “investigated” that alleged donation and confirmed that the sum of US$1 million was received in an account and used by the Party in its 2007 general elections campaign and “that sum appears to have come from Olint”.

Senator Golding, who noted that the Opposition — despite admitting to receiving funds — has yet to speak further on the matter, said his Government was “determined not to put the interests of the PNP Party ahead of the interests of the country”.

“The public interest is strongly in favour of bringing these territories under the Act as it will greatly enhance the cross-border fight against crime and corruption. We are therefore committed to going ahead with bringing these British Overseas Territories under the ambit of the Act,” the justice minister said.

“The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions requested me to rectify this situation by making an Order bringing these countries within the ambit of the Act,” the justice minister said.

The forms of legal assistance available under the Act include matters such as the location, examination and taking of witnesses’ testimony, the production of documents and other records, the carrying out of searches and seizures, and the tracing, seizure and forfeiture of property.

In contrast, where the act does not apply, Jamaica’s Central Authority, the DPP, can only provide limited forms of legal assistance to requesting countries.

In the meantime, Senator Golding refused to cast any aspersions as to why his predecessor Senator Dorothy Lightbourne — who had served under the previous administration — had not responded to the same request by the DPP in June 2008.

According to Senator Golding: “This state of affairs had been brought to the attention of the then minister of justice with a request for her to facilitate Jamaica’s ability to provide legal assistance to these countries on a reciprocal basis under the Act, but this had not been done.”
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